Different, but likely safer
Gambling outside can be a dicey proposition, pun completely intended. The natural elements are not overly conducive to games of chance. I remember in 2007, Ryan Daut defeated Isaac Haxton heads-up to win the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. The final table was held outside and it got really windy – Haxton long hair was blowing all over the place. Watching it, I thought the cards were going to fly off the table at any moment. The most well-known outdoor poker game was the final table of the 1997 Main Event, won by a debt and drug-ravaged Stu Ungar, nearly two decades after he won his first two Main Event titles.
So while gambling outside might be risky, the COVID-19 pandemic has made everyone make some changes. That includes the San Jose city council, which voted 10-1 on Tuesday to allow the city’s two casinos, Bay 101 and Casino M8trix, to hold their gambling entertainment outside. The idea is to give people more room to spread out, playing under giant tents. And while social distancing, masks, and plexiglass dividers will still be required, the outdoor environments are safer in terms of the coronavirus spread than are indoor spaces.
“Anything Casino M8trix can do to get our employees back to work safely, to generate some much-needed tax revenue for the city of San Jose, and to provide outdoor entertainment and food and beverage to our amazing patrons, would be spectacular,” Casino M8trix vice president Robert Lindo said.
California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered the state’s card rooms to close in March. They were able to reopen in late June, but when COVID-19 cases exploded around the country because people got impatient and it was time OPEN FOR BUSINESS, card rooms in 19 California counties had to shut down again in July.
Tribal operators were able to continue to operate if they wanted to, as they are on sovereign land and do not have to follow state orders. Early in the shut downs, however, most did agree to close for a while.
City needs the tax money
The primary reason the San Jose city council approved the moving of poker games outside was to help generate tax revenue. Prior to the pandemic, San Jose expected to generate $18.9 million from card room taxes. Now, with card rooms going dark for months and reduced capacity even when open, the estimate is down to $13.5 million.
“The more months they go out of service, the less (tax revenue) we will be able to generate,” said councilmember Raul Peralez.
There is an air of uncertainty surrounding the decision, as outdoor gaming is a break from the norm. But the restrictions indoors present their own problems.
“There would be a reduction of the indoor gaming with social distancing and all the necessary COVID-19 requirements,” Bay 101 Vice President Ron Werner said. “Frankly, we don’t know what it will look like until we see how patrons respond.”